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    Archive for the ‘lignans’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: Flaxseed Questions


    Am I correct in assuming that chewing flax seeds does not release significant amounts of lignans [like grinding them up]?

    Can I grind a whole bunch of flax seeds in advance in a coffee grinder or do they lose their health benefits over time?

    Also, I usually buy roasted flax seeds – any pros or cons associated with them being roasted?

    — Jake Shields
    (Location Unknown)

    When it comes to flax, lignans — heart-healthy compounds also linked to decreased risks of breast and prostate cancers — are only bioavailable from ground seeds (also known as “flax meal”). It would take significant (and kind of physically impossible) chewing of each seed to unlock lignans. Nevertheless, whole flaxseeds still offer fiber and omega 3 fatty acids, so they are by no means worthless.

    Once ground up, the fatty acids in flax start to oxidize — bad news from a health standpoint. If you grind your own flax seeds, only grind as much as you need. Alternatively, store any unused ground flax in the freezer.

    It’s fine to buy pre-packaged flaxmeal, too. Simply make sure it is in a container that does not allow light to pass through, and check for an expiration date that is several months away from the date of purchase.  Some health food stores place flaxmeal in a refrigerator or freezer, which I think is a wonderful idea. Once opened, always store ground flax in the freezer.

    As for roasting flaxseeds: it brings out their nutty flavor, but does not affect lignan content in any way. And, whereas flax oil is too fragile to stand up to heat, whole seeds are much more resilient.


    Numbers Game: Answer

    NutMealFlaxSeedStudies on flaxseed intake have shown that two tablespoons of ground flax a day for three months can lower LDL cholesterol by anywhere from 9 to 18 percent.

    Added bonus?  The lignans (specific plant compounds) in ground flax are highly anti-inflammatory.  Remember, inflammation at the cellular level is believed to be one of the chief causes behind a litany of degenerative diseases.

    Flaxseed offers a particular lignan known as SDG (secoisolariciresinol diglycoside, to be exact), which helps lower the levels of oxidative stress in blood vessels.  In laymen’s terms: SDG is a powerful tool against the development of atherosclerosis.

    Recent — and very promising! — studies appear to show that SDG also helps maintain steady blood glucose levels.


    You Ask, I Answer: Cooking with Omega 3 Fatty Acids

    HempSeedNutShelledHempSeed_MH10101.jpegAre the omega 3 oils in flax, hemp, and chia seeds destroyed when cooking?

    If so, at what temperatures can the omega 3 withstand?

    If we eat chips and crackers with these seeds are we not gaining the value of the omega 3?

    — Julie Stone
    (Location Unknown)

    Great question!  I have seen so much misinformation on this topic that I am chomping at the bit to set it all straight.

    As far as flaxseeds go, feel free to use either whole or ground flaxseeds (AKA flax meal) any which way you want.

    Multiple studies — in reputable publications like the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, the British Journal of Nutrition, and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition — have concluded that the Omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed are resistant to oxidation even when cooked for sixty minutes at 660 degrees Fahrenheit!

    In fact, the consensus is that there is no difference in Omega-3 fatty acid content between raw and cooked flaxseeds or flax meal.

    The most likely explanation is that the lignans (a particular variety of plant compounds) in flaxseed have a protective effect on the oil.

    Keep in mind, this does NOT apply to flax seed oil, which does not contain lignans, and is therefore is extremely susceptible to oxidation (even at temperatures of 150 degrees Fahrenheit).  Flaxseed oil is best suited to salad dressings or raw dips.

    Hemp and chia seeds are slightly more delicate than flaxseeds.  It is recommended they be exposed to temperatures no higher than 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

    FYI — don’t be scared to use hemp or chia seeds in muffin recipes.

    Although heating instructions may specify the oven temperature to be set at 350 or 400 degree Fahrenheit, the internal temperature of a muffin right out of the oven is usually no higher than 250 ot 275 degrees Fahrenheit.


    You Ask, I Answer: Ground Vs. Whole Flaxseeds

    My question is about Kashi and Nature’s Path products that claim to have Omega 3’s from flaxseed, but clearly only have whole flaxseeds in their products.

    Don’t they need to be ground for our bodies to receive [nutritional benefit[s]?

    I’ve always been puzzled by this. Thanks!

    — “Glidingcalm”
    Via the blog

    Yes, only the ground-up form provides all the wonderful nutrition packed inside those tiny seeds.

    If you were to thoroughly chew each flaxseed you would theoretically also be getting the same amount of nutrition, but it is very easy to swallow them whole (particularly when they are part of a waffle or cracker), in which case they pass right through the digestive system without contributing their Omega-3 fatty acids or lignans.

    To ensure you are getting the most out of this great seed, have ground flaxseed ready to go in your refrigerator or buy whole ones and pulverize them in a coffee grinder.

    Keep in mind, though, that many Kashi products (i.e.: their thin crust pizzas) are made with ground flaxseeds.

    Similarly, some Nature’s Path cereals (like their flax plus cold cereal with raisins) list “flax meal” as an ingredient, which refers to ground flaxseed.

    And so it comes down to a common theme on Small Bites: always read the ingredient list!


    You Ask, I Answer: Flaxseeds

    I have been looking at the articles you’ve tagged with flaxseed and it looks like you wholeheartedly encourage the addition of ground flaxseed meal to foods.

    However, I wonder if doing this is ultimately beneficial – as you point out, men at risk for prostate cancer should watch their consumption of ALA [alpha linolenic acid].

    Additionally, omega-3 or not, adding fat to foods will increase the calories… for those watching their weight, is this really a smart decision?

    On the other hand, as a vegan, I can attest to difficulty getting nutrients like vitamin B12.

    Do you think that, for vegans, the addition of flax meal is a good idea (even with a diet that incorporates a lot of nuts [in particular, walnuts] and -for cooking- canola oil)?

    — Christine (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    Keep in mind that most of the findings about high ALA intakes and prostate cancer risk mostly relate to flaxseed oil (which contains very high levels of ALA — approximately twice that of fish oil, and certainly much more than a tablespoon ground flaxseed), not flaxseeds themselves.

    It’s also interesting to note that lignans — the phytochemicals present in flaxseeds but not in flaxseed oil — are believed to play a protective role against some cancers.

    In any case, I stand by my suggestion of adding a tablespoon or two of ground flaxseed to one meal or snack every day.

    It’s worth stressing that the benefits of ground flaxseed far outweigh any caloric concerns.

    If someone is interested in cutting calories, flaxseed should be at the absolute bottom of that totem pole, since two tablespoons — which pack in a lot of nutrition — only add up to 70 calories.

    It is always important to keep the concept of “nutrient density” in mind.

    In other words — consider the caloric content of a food in relation to everything else it offers.

    Those 70 calories in two tablespoons of flaxseed are keepers — they contain a lot of vital nutrients not commonly found in a lot of other foods!

    Instead of cutting out the flaxseed, have a few less bites of a less nutritious food eaten later in the day.

    Trust me, you won’t find too many other “real” foods that provide 4 grams of fiber in just 70 calories!

    As far as veganism is concerned, if walnuts and canola oil are consumed on a regular basis, then there is a decent intake of ALA and there isn’t a need to also consume ground flaxseeds.

    That is certainly a minority we are talking about, since 98% of the United States population is not consuming the recommended amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids?

    So, yes, you bet I am a proponent of adding ground flaxseed to foods.

    It’s, at the very least, a start for some people whose Omega-3 intake is currently at zero.

    I am glad you asked this question, though, because it once again goes back to the idea that “more is not better.”

    ALA is a wonderful thing to have in the diet, but overdoing is not healthier than getting the necessary amounts.


    You Ask, I Answer: Menopause

    What nutritional requirements should I be on the lookout for as I go through menopause?

    — Lena Hill
    Boca Raton, FL

    Since menopause is a time when a woman’s body undergoes a number of changes (among them hormonal, since estrogen and progesterone production is halted), nutrition recommendations are slightly altered.

    To begin with, there is a fairly decent body of research linking diets rich in phytoestrogens (plant versions of estrogen) with alleviation of some menopause symptoms.

    It is worth pointing out that phytoestrogens are not as powerful as human estrogen, so in order for them to have any sort of therapeutic effect, they need to be consumed in fairly large quantities on a consistent (daily) basis.

    Although there are approximately 30 different forms of phytoestrogens, isoflavones and lignans are the two most commonly cited as helpful with menopause symptoms.

    Legumes (including lentils, chickpeas, and soybeans) are good sources of isoflavones, while flaxseeds and bran are the best sources of lignans.

    Although there is some research showing no relationship between isoflavone consumption and menopause symptoms, it is worth pointing out that most of those studies only looked at soy intake, rather than a variety of phytoestrogens.

    Additionally, I don’t see the harm in trying to include phytoestrogen rich foods (like edamame, pictured alongside this post) in the diet, since they are good sources of fiber, healthy fats, zinc, and calcium.

    Even if they don’t help you specifically with symptoms, you are certainly getting a fair share of nutrition.

    Menopause is also a time to increase the intake of specific nutrients.

    First up – calcium. Once women hit 50 years of age, their calcium requirement returns to that of their adolescent years – 1,200 to 1,400 milligrams a day.

    This is up to 40 percent higher than the 1,000 milligram requirement for women ages 18 – 49.

    It is recommended to get as much as calcium as possible from food first, and resort to supplements to make up any lost ground.

    Supplementation of Vitamin D is also encouraged.

    Requirements increase from 400 International Units to 800, since older women can’t convert sunlight into vitamin D as efficiently as their younger counterparts.

    Because aging is accompanied by a loss of muscle mass, metabolism also slows down.

    By the time a woman reaches the age of 60, for instance, her calorie needs decrease 15 to 20 percent than when she is in 30.

    This means that the hypothetical 2,000 calories required at age 30 to maintain weight turn into roughly 1600.

    This is one reason why exercise is so crucial. Weigt bearing exercises help minimize muscle loss, thereby keeping metabolism slowdown to a minimum (assuming there are no other health problems).


    Perfect Pickings: Frozen Waffles

    In a breakfast landscape full of high fiber cereals and “energy bars”, waffles are often thought as a nutritionally inferior twice removed cousin.

    Not so!

    Depending on what waffles you purchase – and what you top them off with – you could very well take care of a third of your daily fiber needs before noon.

    When purchasing waffles, there are two values you want to pay special attention to: fiber and sugar.

    Although calories can indeed vary between different products (anywhere from 130 to 240 calories per serving), it is usually what waffles are topped off with that significantly raises these figures.

    Buying frozen waffles offering 130 calories per serving but drowning them in 400 calories’ worth of syrup and whipped cream defeats the initial purpose of seeking a lower-calorie alternative.

    Anyhow, a fiberless waffle (one or two grams per serving) is not much of a power breakfast. You might as well be eating a slice of white bread with some butter on top.

    Aim for five or more grams of fiber and no more than six grams of sugar per serving (usually two waffles).

    Always think of frozen waffles as simply – and literally! — the base of a highly nutritious breakfast.

    Here are some topping ideas:

    To sneak some calcium into your day, cover each waffle with two tablespoons of non-fat or, even better, low-fat plain yogurt (vegans: soy yogurt also does the trick).

    This is a great opportunity to get a fruit serving in. Think bananas, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples, peaches, kiwis – any fruit you like, really.

    Not only do these toppings provide nutrition, they also offer such an array of flavors that you will need very little – or no – syrup on your waffles.

    Ground flaxseed is something I think everybody should have in their refrigerator or freezer.

    Since it is virtually tasteless, you can add it to anything! Sprinkle a tablespoon on your waffles to start your day off with lignans and some Omega-3’s.

    Remember – flaxseeds must be ground up if you want to reap the full nutrition benefits.

    You can either buy ready-to-eat flaxseed meal — Bob’s Red Mill is a popular brand — or purchase whole flaxseeds, which you should then demolish in a coffee grinder.

    Therefore, don’t be fooled by frozen waffles containing whole flaxseeds you aren’t getting very much extra nutrition for the extra buck.


    All-Star of the Day: Flaxseed

    I can’t think of a simpler and better way to get more nutrition in your diet than by adding flaxseed to your meals.

    Even the pickiest of eaters approve of their non-intrusive flavor and consistency.

    Since flaxseed’s highly healthful contents are protected by a thick shell, the best way to eat — and easiest way to buy — it is as a milled or ground product.

    Whereas the outer shell passes undigested through our body, the center is much more easily absorbed — and offers some powerhouse nutrients.

    Two tablespoons of flaxseed provide 4 grams (20 percent) of fiber and almost 150% of the omega-3 fatty acids we need in just 95 calories!

    You might have heard a lot about omega-3 fatty acids (they have replaced whole grains as the new “hot topic” in nutrition).

    Let’s do a little “Omega 101,” shall we?

    Omega-3’s are wonderful essential fatty acids (yes, ‘wonderful’ and ‘fatty’ can be in the same sentence!).

    Why? It has amazing anti-inflammation properties (and thus a strong defense against asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and migraine headaches) and helps prevent the formation of blood clots (thereby decreasing our risk of heart attacks and strokes).

    The newest research on omega-3’s has also shown a link between their consumption and the slowing down of bone loss, especially among pre-menopausal women.

    Although omega-3′ are often linked with fatty fish like salmon, flaxseed have lots of alpha linoleic acid, the precursor to eicosapentaenoic acid (the omega-3 found in fatty fish).

    Omega-3’s are essential, meaning the body can not produce them on its own (unlike cholesterol, which we make on a daily basis and thus do not need to get from our food).

    However, the average adult in the United States is consuming 1.6 grams of Omega-3 fats a day — falling way short of the recommended minimum of 2.85 grams a day set forth by the American Heart Association.

    That is not all flaxseed has to offer, though. High in the mineral magnesium, it is a good nutritional tool to combat asthma symptoms and keep blood pressure stable.

    Flaxseed is also high in special plant compounds named lignans.

    Women should pay special attention, since lignans contain phytoestrogens, an estrogen-like hormone that, in several studies, has been shown to decrease the formation of cell mutations related to the onset of breast cancer. One specific phytoestrogen in flaxseed known as SDG successfully ceased the formation of mammary tumors in rats.

    In fact, a study published in the February 2004 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested that just one ounce of ground flaxseed every day over a 4-month period raises breast cancer protective hormones.

    No matter what your sex, the insoluble (digestive-system-cleaning) and soluble (bad-cholesterol-flushing) fiber in flaxseed is worth raving about.

    Remember, though, they are “all-star”, so they also offer a special type of soluble fiber called mucilage which functions as a natural laxative.

    Here is the easiest part: all you need to do is buy ground flaxseed meal (sold at many commercial supermarkets and health food stores).

    Even if you are unable to boil water without screwing up, you can add flaxseed to your diet. Sprinkle it on cereal, oatmeal, soups or salads, blend it into smoothies, or mix it with yogurt.

    Be sure to store flaxseed in the refrigerator once opened, though, since it spoils quickly and loses its nutritional properties if left out at room temperature once opened.

    Flax all, folks!


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